Photo credit: HBO
Photo credit: HBO

Last year, HBO brought to the small screen a series based on the bestselling novel by Tom Perrotta, “The Leftovers.”  In a review of the series for my blog, I wasn’t all that impressed by the premiere episode, but was hooked enough to stick with the entire season.  The second season started on Sunday on HBO and it’s off to a promising start.

The story centers on humans left behind after the Christian mythological “Rapture” takes about two percent of the world’s population.  People just disappear in the blink of an eye — leaving only their clothes behind. Oh, and even some pregnant women were suddenly un-pregnant during this event. Unborn babies suddenly disappeared from their mothers’ wombs — leaving a lot of lost, angry, and depressed women in its wake.  But more than that, almost everyone left behind feels lost at the reasons why this happened and they act out in various ways that runs the gamut from mindless hedonism to nihilism. Bleak stuff, but that’s what happens when an act that has deep meaning for some is meaningless to others.  

Season Two of “The Leftovers” is free from the confines of Perrotta’s novel — and that’s a good thing because now the show can explore the deeper meaning behind the Rapture.  Indeed, the title of episode is “Axis Mundi” where the center of the world is supposedly located.  In this case, the center of the world (and the portal between heaven and earth) is Jarden, Texas (renamed “Miracle” because no one from that town “departed” in the Rapture). Before we get the meet the residents of this town, however, we get taken back in time in humankind’s history to see a pregnant cave woman getting up from the communal fire at night and walk down to the river to take a pee.  She spots a hawk crossing the full moon (symbolism alert!). Shortly after, a huge earthquake hits and boulders come crashing down to completely cover the entrance to the cave her clan is sleeping in.  She’s all alone, and yes, she starts to go into labor right there.  She gives birth, nurses the baby, and tries to find food for herself.  She spots the hawk in the day sky and finds a tree with eggs in a nest.  As she’s eating the eggs, a snake (symbolism alert!) is seen slithering over the baby. The mother climbs down the tree, and while trying to kill the snake, she is bitten.  She eventually dies from the snake bite, and the baby is saved by a woman from another clan.  Where she dies is by a small lake… and the scene changes to the present where teenage girls are swimming in the same lake.  What’s the significance of the two scenes?  Well, we may get answers by the end of this season.

Damon Lindelof (one of the big brains behind “LOST”) is back at the helm, and he’s much more in command of the material because he’s able to frame the story in a way that’s more to his style of storytelling.  That is to say, there’s a lot of paranormal and paranoid stuff that’s just below the surface of a seemingly idyllic community where seemingly good folk reside. Indeed it’s a testament to quality of the storytelling that it’s not important to get reacquainted with the main characters of the first season until the third act.  Instead the story centers on The Murphys — a stable, solidly middle-class family headed by Erika and John (Regina King and Kevin Carroll).  Their two children Michael and Evie (Jovan Adepo and Jasmin Savoy Brown) are teenagers — one of whom (Evie) we meet as one of girls swiming in the lake after the cave woman sequence.  Evie is one of the more interesting characters in the story because she embodies the rebelliousness of the teen years while also being a good daughter to her parents. She flirts with a scientist taking water samples from the lake where they are swimming (even though he’s much older than she is), she goes streaking with her friends through the woods, and then sings in a church choir and practices softball pitching with dad. Dad, on the other hand, has a down home smile, but is also part of some kind of group who will burn you out of house and home if your religious views conflict with what he thinks is the norm.  Michael is the good son who goes to church, sells samples of Miracle water from the all important lake to tourists —  who come to the town because of its reputation. Indeed, the town has so much of a reputation that it’s guarded by the national park police who act as gatekeepers in who can and can’t enter the town.  All very intriguing, all very Lindelof, all very promising.  We’ll see if the second season can reveal the mysteries in a satisfying way — something the first season failed to do.